Beers and Bands: Hair of the Dog’s Adam meets Fucked Up’s “Chemistry of Common Life”
Everyone always talks about the art of pairing alcohol with food, and with good reason: You’re usually eating when you’re drinking. But we’re just as likely to be doing something else when we’re imbibing (something that, ideally, involves no less subtlety or forethought): We listen to music when we drink. At a bar or a club, a ballpark or a rock club, around the dinner table or in the bedroom, it’s always around. It’s so obvious, we barely think about it. But that’s what we’re doing.
And what I’m usually doing is drinking beer. I like the good stuff—Dogfish Head, Sixpoint, Great Lakes, a beautifully floral German hefeweizen, a sour Belgian gouze—but I’ll never scoff at a cold Bud or 2 a.m. PBR. Beer is the stuff of life. It’s what’s for dinner.
So I’d like to ask a simple question: Which beers pair best with which albums? A dorky question sure, but one worth asking. There are almost as many of the former as there are of the latter. It’s an endless discussion. But I think we can drill down to some specifics, a few hoppy ales that nail the tangy spite of an early Cure record, some imperial stouts that do justice to an Arab Strap misery fest, a couple bright, blooming Pilsners that set the mood for the Beach Boys and the Byrds. In a series of occasional columns, I’ll pick out a few choice pairings.
For my first, I’m going with Adam, a dark, robust ale from Hair of the Dog brewery in Portland, Oregon, and “The Chemistry Of Common Life,” the 2008 LP from Fucked Up, Toronto’s post-hardcore pranksters. At 10% alcohol, I suppose Adam’s most obvious connection to the Canadian sextet is that, yes, after one or two, you’d be pretty Fucked Up. But it goes much deeper than that. Both the beer and the album are big and meaty, ambitious and complex, exhausting yet rewarding—things to spend time with. “Chemistry” is over 52 minutes long, and I’d recommend not drinking the beer in any less time.
Think of Adam as an older, more drug-addled cousin to Brooklyn’s Brown Ale or Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. Hair of the Dog’s flagship brew has an undeniably nutty character, particularly on the nose. Yet unlike those more common beers, the first sip reveals deep hits of sweet malt, dark chocolate, molasses, raisin, (yes) leather, and a warming splash of alcohol. But Adam’s mouthfeel is where it really shines. It’s thick and bready on the palate—the flavors are well integrated and perfectly balanced.
This is about as complex and flavorful as an ale can get, particularly one that hasn’t been aged (though Hair of the Dog recommends you do just that with Adam). The only beers that come close are Dogfish Head’s famed India Brown Ale, He’Brew’s Rejewvenator (each batch of which is made with 400 gallons of date juice), and Ramstein’s Winter Wheat Eisbock, from Butler, New Jersey’s modest High Point Brewing Company. Adam is a perfect American strong ale: heavy yet drinkable, alcoholic without being overpowering, sweet without being sickly.
Similarly, “The Chemistry of Common Life” does an expert job of tempering its extremes just enough to make them palatable. And like Adam, it can feel like a nice little punch to the gut. Nearly every one of its 11 songs sound like three or four hardcore tracks stacked on top of each other. There are guitars aplenty. The band itself has three of them—on record, there could be at least twice that many. “Chemistry” is as thick with power chords as Adam is with malts, and it can be a lot to wade through. The band’s 300-pound frontman Damien Abraham (aka Pink Eyes) screams like he’s got razors in his throat, making every moment urgent, wired, and absolutely necessary. These songs land like tanks dropped from 30,000 feet.
Yet, like Adam, Fucked Up’s second LP rewards your perseverance. Despite Pink Eyes’ feral bark, “Chemistry” is stubbornly melodic. The guitars may be unceasing, but they always have something to say—whether it’s the cries of feedback that envelope “Son the Father,” the ragged chords that open “Crooked Head,” or the chiming Gibsons that introduce album standout, “Black Albino Bones.” Lodged at the heart of this tortured album are undeniably sweet moments: the Vivian Girls’ soaring backing vocals on “No Epiphany,” the mellow Pink Floyd meditation, “Golden Seal,” Dallas Green’s bittersweet yelp (“I need an escape!”) on “Black Albino Bones.” These, to strain the metaphor, are the chocolate and raisins in Fucked Up’s brutal alcoholic brew.
More to the point, drinking this beer with this album just makes sense. You wouldn’t be advised to consume more than one of either in a single sitting; both Adam and “Chemistry” are not for the timid or faint of heart. It may, according to Pink Eyes, be “the little things that get us through life.” But it’s the big beers, and the bigger albums, that make it worth living.
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